Lenni-Lanape story has moral messages for holiday season
A captivating story of the Delaware tribe’s Lenni-Lenape people, who first inhabited southeastern Pennsylvania near such local waterways as the Tacony, Wissahickon and Pennypack before being pushed west by settlers to distant places like Oklahoma, has potent moral messages for the holiday season.
“The Hunter and The Owl” tale, as told by Richard C. Adams way back in 1905 for the book “Legends of the Delaware Indians” that was edited by Deborah Nichols, focuses on the fateful encounter between a determined hunter and the wise bird with extraordinary predatory powers and instincts.
As the story goes, after traveling with his wife “on a long hunt quite a way from the village,” a proud hunter wasn’t having much luck finding prey, according to the account that I found at delawaretribe.org, a website of the Delaware tribe.
As the couple sat around the campfire bemoaning the situation, “an owl hooted from a tree near by and after hooting laughed.”
But instead of getting offended, the hunter “considered [it] a good omen, but to make sure of this [he] took a chunk of fire and retired a little way from the camp under the tree where the owl was perched, and laid the chunk of fire on the ground, and sitting by it began to sprinkle tobacco on the live coal and talk to the owl,” probably to “butter up” the feathery creature.
Referring to the owl as “Mohoo-mus (or Grandfather),” the hunter offered the sagacious bird an irresistible deal.
“I know that you are very fond of the fat of the deer and that you can exercise influence over the game if you will,” the hunter exclaimed. “I want you to bring much game in my way, not only deer, but fur-bearing animals, so that I may return home with a bountiful supply of furs as well as much dried meat and I will promise you that from the largest deer that I kill, I will give you the fat and heart, of which you are very fond.”
Likely stretching his huge eyes even more, the owl really perked up when the hunter added, “I will hang them in a tree so that you can get them.”
Noting that the laughing owl was overjoyed with the offer, “the hunter knew that he would get much game after that.”
Yet, when the hunter soon harvested “a very large buck,” he became so excited that he forgot to follow through with the promise that he had made to the great owl.
Tremendously offended, the owl cursed the hunter, warning him that death would be his eternal punishment.
The hunter, however, rebuffed the wide-eyed bird, countering with casting a death curse upon the mighty owl.
Yet, as each began to get very tired, the threat of looming death forced them to reconcile. “My good hunter, I will recall my curse and help you all I can, if you will recall yours, and we will be friends after this,” offered the owl.
And to show his good faith, “the hunter lay the deer down and took out the fat and the heart and hung them up” so that the great owl, or “Grandfather,” might enjoy the delectable feast.
Consequently, the deer was “much lighter” as the hunter “carried it to his camp with perfect ease” where his awaiting wife “dressed the deer and cut up strips of the best meat and hung them up to dry” as “the hunter went out again and soon returned with other game.”
Just like the hunter, when we correct our wrongs and “do the right thing,” our burdens psychologically become much less heavy. We’re then able to move forward with guiltless optimism.
In fact, the Lenni-Lenape couple was rewarded over the next few days with “all the furs and dried meat they could both carry to their home,” with the hunter learning a valuable lesson: Never break a promise!
The story also stresses the importance of settling friction between two parties by communicating and reconciling, especially considering that most folks have common goals to be happy and harmonious during the holiday season that can often be quite stressful.
It’s best, as the hunter and the owl demonstrate, to acknowledge a partner’s value and work together in harmony.